On this day in 1918, the Cunard steamer RMS Carpathia was torpedoed and sunk off the coast of Ireland by the German U-boat U-55.
Chances are you may have heard the name Carpathia before, as it was the ship that rescued many hundreds of survivors from the White Star liner RMS Titanic in April 1912.
Six years later, the Carpathia (which had been built on the Tyne and had its maiden voyage in 1903) was being used to transport US troops, having also carried many thousands of tons of supplies on behalf of the British government. On July 17, 1918, the vessel set sail from Liverpool as part of a convoy heading for Boston.
Three torpedoes were fired from the submarine, which was under the command of Wilhelm Werner. The first two hit the port side and engine room respectively; the second being responsible for the only five fatalities (three trimmers and two firemen). With the vessel taking on water and listing, Captain William Prothero gave the order to abandon ship. The remaining crew members and all 57 passengers (36 saloon and 21 steerage) were able to board lifeboats as the Carpathia began to sink. A third torpedo struck the vessel and the Germans would almost certainly have inflicted greater loss of life had it not been for the intervention of HMS Snowdrop, which was able to halt the attack before rescuing the survivors.
The report from the New York Times (on 19 July) included a number of quotes from members of the Carpathia’s crew: “The passengers had just finished breakfast and it was a beautiful summer morning, when about 9:15 a torpedo struck us near No.3 hatch forward. Two minutes later another torpedo struck right in the engine room and killed five of the crew who were at work there. We could see the submarine. It was a big two-masted vessel, quite the latest type of U-boat.
“The Carpathia did not seem very badly damaged by these two explosions. She was taking in water, but I think she would have lasted for hours, and might even have been towed into the harbor [sic] if the U-boat had not got busy again.
“A quarter of an hour after the first torpedo had been discharged a third was fired and caught us near the gunner’s rooms. A big explosion followed. We could see that the Carpathia was doomed. She settled down rapidly after that and, about 11 A.M, disappeared.”
Seemingly the first explosion had damaged the wireless equipment so that the Carpathia was unable to send out a distress call. Another vessel in the area was able to raise the alarm; and as well as noting the admirable calm on board the Carpathia, one survivor commended the actions of the ship’s third engineer and boilermaster who were able to bring the vessel safely to a halt, despite suffering from severe burns.
The Carpathia was the fifth (of a total of ten) Cunard passenger vessels lost in just five weeks. The other casualties were RMS Ascania, SS Ausonia, SS Dwinsk and SS Valentia. U-55 reportedly sank 64 merchant vessels during the War, before eventually surrendering to the Japanese later in 1918. Sinking RMS Carpathia was undoubedly the submarine’s most notable “achievement”, but this wasn’t quite the end of the story for the British vessel, as the wreck was found in 1999.
Reportedly lying in over 500 feet of water, just under 200 miles off the Cornish coast, Carpathia was described as being “in reasonably good condition for a wreck of that age. She is in one piece and she is sat upright." Huge tears were visible in the side of the hull and the boilers appeared to have exploded as the ship sank.
Obviously the watery grave was a desperately sad end for the Carpathia. For a vessel to be attacked and to sink with the loss of just five lives is pretty astonishing, but the actions of the captain (Arthur Rostron) and the crew of the ship back in April 1912 are both remarkable and inspiring. Whilst so many families owe their very existence to RMS Carpathia, this blog respectfully remembers the five crew members who perished on this day 97 years ago.
Last Wednesday, Elaine and I headed into Middlesbrough to attend an annual Iftar (breaking of the fast) hosted by members of the Islamic Diversity Centre. This is the second year that we’ve been invited to what is a fantastic opportunity for Muslims and non-Muslims to come together and enjoy company and conversation that effortlessly bridges cultural and religious differences.
I nearly used the word “divide” as opposed to “differences”, but that would have been totally inappropriate. We live in a society which I believe is enriched by diversity (not the dance group I hasten to add...), and when differences in backgrounds, culture, faith, and beliefs are mutually respected, then events such as last week’s Iftar turn from a simple gathering, to an understated, yet genuine celebration of humanity and friendship.
For various reasons, I didn’t fast last Wednesday, but I had already completed two days without food and water during Ramadan – and a third will follow early next week.
My main reason for fasting was and is no secret. I wanted to openly show my respect for the beliefs of two very good friends – Imran and Zak – and I suppose by definition for all those who follow Islam. I will never claim to understand a great deal about religion, but that does not prevent me from seeing how the lives of people like Imran and Zak are enhanced and deepened by the individual and collective faith they share.
My own spiritual happiness comes from the love of those who mean the most to me, my family and particularly my wonderful wife Elaine; and also from the friendship of those who have been (in some cases still are, and hopefully will remain) part of my life... those who have made some sort of positive difference (even if they don’t actually realise the impact they have had).
For me, the ability to reflect doesn’t come from a requirement to fast... that is my choice. But to fast, to reflect and then to be given the opportunity to share the experience with Muslims and non-Muslims alike... that is a privilege; so to Imran, Zak, and everyone involved with IDC... thank you.
I have to go now... it’s chocolate time (and I’ve checked Zak, they’re definitely not dates in disguise!)... but I will let you know how Day 3 goes next week.
One of the tasks I set myself as part of my series of challenges on behalf of “Time to Change” was to have a go at radio presenting; so the offer not only to co-host a two-hour show, but for that show to be based around mental health was far too good an opportunity to miss.
The “Mentally Sound” show is transmitted once a month, every second Friday, and as yesterday was indeed July’s second Friday, I headed up to Newcastle to the studios of Gravity Radio North East, which are based on the top floor of a ridiculously high building near the city centre.
The programme is in its relative infancy (this was show no.5), but behind the scenes there is a small, but dedicated team, who are determined to raise the profile of what are hugely important issues through a combination of live guests, topical discussion and pre-recorded inserts... and a slightly less relevant (but nonetheless enjoyable) tune or two along the way.
What is particularly good about the show is that its concept and aim have a very real personal significance for some of those involved, and the knowledge and insight, coupled with a very evident passion and drive will hopefully see the programme evolve and reach an ever wider audience.
With Gareth and Victoria having completed the pre-show preparations, I sat down in what was a decidedly warm studio, opposite the presenter Steve, who had briefed me as to my involvement in proceedings... well we’d chatted about wrestling! Last but absolutely not least was Wayne, who has forgotten more about all things technical than I will ever know....
Which was just as well because as the show started, my microphone wasn’t working!
In fairness, it could always have been a pre-arranged plan: “Don’t switch it on until you’re sure he’s not going to be crap!”
Anyway all was soon well; Steve and I chatted for a few minutes about my experiences and challenges, before the first of the pre-recorded interviews. Ricky then came into the studio to give a live news update... which was then used to prompt a discussion/debate between the three of us, with seamless links from Steve allowing the second microphone to be redirected between Ricky and me without any unnatural break in conversation. At least that was the theory!
A second live guest, David, then came in to talk about his writing... in particular his undeniably intriguing dual-themed book about King Arthur’s legend and mental health, all apparently set in a modern nightclub.
You might just want to read that last paragraph again!
After the remaining inserts, there was a chance for Steve and I to have another brief chat before he wrapped up the show. Interestingly, some of the best conversation probably came off-air and Steve, Ricky, Wayne and I all continued transmitted debates whilst the audience listened to the pre-recorded material.
I realise that at this relatively early stage, there is some assurance that comes from having the majority of content ready at the press of a proverbial button, but maybe as the show develops it would benefit from a greater proportion of live interaction? If one of Mentally Sound’s aims is to encourage people to be willing and able talk about any aspect of mental health, then hearing views and lived experiences being openly and naturally shared would be a really positive ambition.
All in all I found the whole experience both enjoyable and rewarding; and I am grateful to everyone associated with Mentally Sound for allowing me to get involved. Hopefully it won’t be the last time I can contribute to the show... but for now, I need to get back in training... the netball court awaits!
Yesterday, I attempted… and completed a second day’s fasting out of respect for a couple of my friends, Imran and Zak, who are observing Ramadan, but who also took the time to come to my house last night… and deliver this cake (#Cakes4Syria)....
When I thought about it, it just didn’t feel right to welcome them into my home, but not be able to offer them anything to eat or drink… so I decided that I should abstain for the whole day as well.
As last week, I took the time to reflect on those few, but hugely important people who have had a significant impact on my life. When I committed my first thoughts to (electronic) paper, I dwelt mainly on my immediate and close family, whose love and influence has undeniably helped to shape the person that I’ve become. I also realise that I am incredibly lucky to go home every night to be with someone who is both my wife and my friend. In a few days Elaine and I have been together for nine years, and I simply don’t have the words to convey how much she means to me….
But during these past few hours, I’ve also recalled some of those people to whom I am not related…. friends who have been, or still are part of my life and who (for any number of reasons) have made a positive difference.
Of course as the year pass, and we grow and develop as people, so friends inevitably drift in and out of our lives, but even the briefest of friendships can still have a lasting impact. As someone who has enjoyed many years playing and watching sport, I was rarely without “good mates”, but with a couple of notable exceptions (and I hope you know who you are…), virtually all my closest friends have been female.
I am well aware of the sensitive side to my nature, but it takes an awful lot for me to feel comfortable or “safe” enough to share my innermost thoughts and feelings. That said I have still made some bad choices; more people have walked away than stayed “friends” – I have wondered if the “real” me wasn’t actually worth the effort…? Whatever the case, I am old (albeit not wise) enough to accept that perceived good things can and do come to a proverbial end; but I still cling to the belief that there was a reality behind the reason(s) for becoming and being friends. To be denied that “truth” would be a shattering blow… even now; but I suppose protection comes in the form of the passage of time… and my constant (although occasionally clearly misguided) willingness to see the best in people.
Thankfully there are friendships that do (and hopefully will) stand the test of time. I have looked back at how I first met the people (again without naming names) whose friendship I value so much, and whilst I suppose every meeting is a chance or random encounter of sorts; that “chance” obviously takes on a much greater significance if it ultimately leads to a meaningful or long-term friendship.
I read an article recently, which claimed that there were eight types of friends that everyone should have in their respective life: a loyal best friend, a fearless adventurer, a brutally honest confidant(e), a wise mentor, a friend from a different culture, a polar opposite, a friendly neighbour, and a work pal.
I certainly don’t have anywhere near all of the above, but I would question whether friends should really be categorised or pigeon-holed in such a way?
My list would be a lot shorter… in fact it would contain just one word: “true”. If you are lucky enough to have even one true friend, then to be honest, the rest really doesn’t matter – and so to those who have brought that truth into my life, whenever and for however long; I just want to say a simple but heartfelt thank you….
Anyway, this is officially the end of introspective blogs - for a couple of weeks at least… for the next fortnight I am planning to devote my spare time to three things that are far less mentally challenging: pedalling my exercise bike, watching Petra Kvitova’s defence of her Wimbledon single’s title… and eating cake… I might even try doing all three at the same time (but I’ll need to be quick, there isn’t much cake left after last night’s carnage!).